The names themselves are almost enough—Sharpie Mustache, Porch Swing, Old Sally, the Swan. Some are a thrill to pronounce; say Agricole Swizzle (the cocktail from Rumba) and the consonants buzz at the place where the tip of your tongue meets your front teeth.
Or Halekulani (from Canlis) and your mouth is a rapidly contracting vowel apparatus: a, e, u, a, i. Others point to an abiding love of irony and pop culture—Ed Rooney (via the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride).
Can you learn something about a city through its cocktails? I mean really glean a thing or two about what makes a place tick by merely sipping and studying and sitting with its trademark potables? The drinks Allecia Vermillion rhapsodizes about in this month’s cover story certainly suggest so.
There’s the technological fallout from perfecting ginger beer that resulted in the hatching of kegged and carbonated concoctions. Or the one about the barkeep who as a kid stole away to freebase morning candy bars and chocolate milk only to grow up, own a cocktail lounge (Canon), and introduce a libation that, swizzle you not, features a He-Man lunch box, milk, a bendy straw, chocolate, cognac, scotch, and the occasional staff-written note from “mom.”
Or the time the bar manager at Canlis restaurant dug through dusty cocktail books and exhumed a Hawaii-perfected mix of bourbon, lemon, orange, and pineapple—then discovered it had been the house cocktail of a Waikiki hotel favored by his bosses’ grandfather, the restaurant’s late founder, Peter Canlis.
Many of the city’s best cocktails, in fact, have risen from the pages of forgotten books of spells. That’s the case with the drink our cover feature concludes with—a cocktail so Seattle it’s not in our list of 25, but set apart, like a touring museum installation.
An emerald potion fit for an Emerald City, the Last Word put Seattle’s most famous bar on the map—and it too is a work of scholarship: Zig Zag Cafe’s former bartender, the legendary Murray Stenson, unearthed the gin and chartreuse creation from an overlooked tome a little over 10 years ago today.
How that happened, how it changed cocktail culture forever—and how the Last Word is arguably the reason you or anyone else is willing to buy a magazine with a cocktail on the cover in the first place—is revealed in Allecia’s oral history on the topic.
Even if the name of a cocktail isn’t always enough to tell you something about a city, it is in this case. And that, as the name of Stenson’s famously resurrected drink itself suggests, is the final thing to say about the subject.